I wonder if Lefebvre was just cryptomnesic, or if he really wrote without citing (everything) as a method of reinventing meaning and contesting ownership. “Who is not utopian today? Only narrowly specialised practitioners working to order without the slightest critical examination of stipulated norms and constraints, only these not very interesting people escape utopianism. […] But there are several utopianisms. Would not the worst be that utopianism which does not utter its name, covers itself with positivism and on this basis imposes the harshest constraints and the most derisory absence of technicity?” (Kofman & Lebas, 1996: 151)
The city is an imagined, performed focal point where people paradoxically claim place but do not belong. In their complexities, the collective or crowds that infest the cities access it at will, openly. It belongs to none. They encourage art, spectacles and performance in their multiple senses, making it most accessible to all. (Watson & Gibson, 1995: 116, 118-119) It is not difficult to believe that the (city) centres were purposefully used to publicly discipline criminals. (Foucault, 1977: 3-5) By virtue of their accessibility (in that they remain open to the public) city centres could be identified as spaces that render us all spectators of others’ lives, voyeurs while simultaneously exhibitionists.
The two in this situation aren’t restricted to sexual display of the self, although, it does not eliminate this form of the terms. By virtue of being in a city, rarely unpopulated (even when desolate, it houses the homeless) the chances that a gaze will not fall upon us is but inevitable. The police patrolling it when deserted, the tendency for club-hoppers to pass through, the soliciting of and solicited sex and the staggering drunk. If it isn’t ensured yet, the body is then viewed through an enhanced mechanism, the surveillance cameras set-up and maintained (or made to believe so) in these areas. Despite our knowledge of this viewing, we not only allow ourselves to experience the city, but rarely contest the gaze which is often viewed as harmless.
Aren’t we all voyeuristic exhibitionists these days?
Foucault, M. 1977. Discipline and Punish. Translated from the French by Alan Sheridan. London: Penguin.
Kofman, E. and Lebas, E. 1996. Writings on Cities/ Henri Lefebvre: Selected, translated and introduced. Oxford: Blackwell.
Watson, S. and Gibson, K. 1995. Postmodern Cities and Spaces. Oxford and Cambridge: Blackwell.